For the third time in three weeks, the Ontario government started the weekend with changes to public gatherings meant to stop the continuing spread of COVID-19 in the province. On the same day that Ontario set a new record for new daily cases, Premier Doug Ford and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams offered new public health measures, but the health official in Ontario’s biggest hotspot was unimpressed with the changes.
“The modeling we released this week demonstrates the absolute necessity to take action now to reverse current trends and protect our hospital capacity,” said Premier Ford in a statement. “We will do whatever is necessary, acting on the advice of our public health experts, to turn the tide on this second wave and keep everyone safe.”
A number of new public health measures will be initiated in the provincial hotspots of Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa starting at 12:01 am on Saturday. Indoor capacity at bars, restaurants, and other food and drink establishments like nightclubs will be limited to a maximum of 100 patrons, and no more than six at a particular table. All patrons will be asked to maintain a two-metre physical distance indoors and outdoors, and that name and contact information be provided for potential contact tracing later.
These same rules will also be in place for event facilities like banquet halls, except the capacity of those buildings will be cut off at 50. In gyms, exercise classes will be limited to 10 people, with a total capacity of 50 in the whole facility.
“With Ontario’s recent alarming growth in the number of COVID-19 cases, our government is taking further action to help stop the spread of the virus and avoid future lockdowns,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott. There were 732 new cases in Ontario on Friday, and almost 79 per cent of those cases were in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa alone.
“These are difficult, but necessary decisions that are being made to keep people safe, especially our seniors and vulnerable citizens,” Elliott added. “Everyone must follow the public health guidelines if we are going to stop the spread and contain the second wave.”
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health responded with her own ideas about what the province needs to do, and they are much more restrictive. Dr. Eileen de Villa put out a statement saying that that indoor dining at restaurants and bars should be prohibited, all indoor fitness and recreation activities should be cancelled, and that people should only leave home for essential trips for the time being.
“Without quick action to implement further public health measures, there is an acute risk the virus will continue to spread widely, causing serious illness, stressing the health care system and further straining Toronto’s economy,” said Dr. de Villa. “It is my duty as Medical Officer of Health to do what it takes to break the dangerous chain of transmission and so I have asked the Province to support us through legislation or by granting me further authority to act.”
On testing, the Province is going to aim to get to 50,000 tests per day by mid-October, and 68,000 tests per day by mid-November. Starting Sunday, COVID-19 assessment centres will no longer be taking walk-ins so that provincial labs will be able to make “significant progress in processing tests,” but the Province will be expanding the number of pharmacies that will be offering tests, while continuing mobile testing and pop-up centres that will target vulnerable populations. If you have booked an appointment time to be tested at an assessment centre that appointment will proceed as scheduled.
At least one opposition leader did not like the sound of any of this when it was presented by the government on Friday.
“Public health units are under enormous strain because of the Premier’s inability to meet the demand for COVID-19 tests,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner. “We wouldn’t be facing these huge testing problems in October if the Premier had been paying attention in August and September. I am eager to work with the Premier on solutions because Ontarians are paying the price for excuses.”
Closer to home in Guelph, where there were eight new cases on Friday bringing the total of active cases of COVID-19 in our area up to 58, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer is asking local restaurants and bars to literally turn down the noise. In a joint statement with Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the commissioner of the Region of Waterloo’s Public Health & Emergency Services, the health officials asked local establishments to cancel loud music so that patrons aren’t forced to get closer and raise their voices to be heard.
“Local businesses continue to work hard to put in the required precautions for COVID-19 in their establishments,” said Dr. Wang in a statement. “We are asking for everyone’s awareness and understanding that the volume of music or sound in the establishments they frequent needs to be low, to help protect us all.”
“We all have a role in keeping our region open, healthy and thriving – whether that’s schools, offices, or commercial establishments,” added Dr. Mercer. “But, it will take all of us getting creative to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”